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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 March 2006, 00:36 GMT
Kyrgyz revolution gains remain unequal
By Ian MacWilliam
BBC News, Kyrgyzstan

The overthrow of President Askar Akayev in the so-called Tulip Revolution a year ago brought Kyrgyzstan's divisions into sharp focus.

Kyrgyz mountains
Mountainous Kyrgyzstan has always been a land of divisions

Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union brought a sudden and unexpected independence, the mountainous Central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan has struggled to fashion a united sense of nationhood.

The country is divided into numerous regions and remote valleys by the spectacular ranges of the Tien Shan mountains.

Mr Akayev was from the old Soviet-era elite, dominated by people from the north and the capital, Bishkek. The protest movement which led to his overthrow was led by people from around the Ferghana Valley in the south, who have long felt neglected by the government in Bishkek.

'Undue influence'

One of the key towns in the revolution was Osh, where protesters occupied the local administration. Just outside Osh is the town of Karasu, site of the south's main wholesale market.

The market is replete with imported Chinese fridges and televisions, but it has suffered from the tensions which have beset Kyrgyzstan since last year's political upheaval.

Market stall in Karakol
Many Kyrgyz rely on trade to make a living

Once, shooting broke out between the followers of a shady local businessman-turned-member of parliament, Bayaman Erkinbayev, and his rivals for control of the market. Mr Erkinbayev was eventually killed by gunmen last September, and his murder was widely assumed to be related to his business dealings.

It is reported that Mr Erkinbayev helped to organise the protests which eventually brought President Bakiev to power, and many people now say the growing influence on government of shady businessmen like Mr Erkinbayev is one of the most worrying trends of the past year.

New businesses thriving

But Mr Bakiev's accession to power has had some positive influence in the south. One Osh resident who works in the city's administration said it was true that corruption remained a major problem.

"But it's easier to open a new businesses in Osh now," she said. "Before, people who didn't have good connections to the presidential family were afraid to invest their money in building new shops or cafes. Now it's easier to get permission and to buy property."

But the political instability has been bad for Kyrgyzstan's nascent tourist industry. With its stunning mountain scenery, tourism could become one of the Kyrgyz economy's most important sectors.

The village of Arslanbob lies high up in the Ferghana Range on the slopes of the 4,400m Mount Babush-Ata. This scenic village, surrounded by a wild walnut forest, is a popular spot for foreign tourists, who stay in guesthouses run by local families.

Hyatt Tarikov
Hyatt Tarikov wants to introduce skiing to Arslanbob

"All the problems last year, first our Kyrgyz revolution in March and then the Andijan killings just across the border in Uzbekistan in May, were very bad for tourism here," said Hyatt Tarikov, who organises the village's guesthouse network.

"The number of visitors to Arslanbob fell for the first time in six years last year."

Andijan, where Uzbek troops crushed an anti-government protest last May, killing possibly hundreds of people, lies just across the border in the Uzbek part of the Ferghana Valley.

Financial difficulties

Further east across the Ferghana Range, the remote town of Naryn lies on the main highway to Kyrgyzstan's giant neighbour, China. It lies in a narrow valley bound by sheer red cliffs and is still deep in snow at this time of year.

Naryn is visibly poorer than towns in the less remote parts of the country; battered Soviet-era cars still ply the long high street as taxis.

Ulan is a cheerful young taxi-driver who carries passengers in his ancient Zhiguli car between Naryn and neighbouring towns. He used to be a teacher but gave it up because his salary was so paltry.

"I'm not interested in politics," he said. "What happens in Bishkek makes no difference to life here in Naryn."

Like so many Kyrgyz he harbours a dream of better times to come, but the new government and the past year have brought that dream no closer.

"If I had a choice, I wouldn't bother with this taxi driving," he said. "If I could borrow $10,000 from friends, I'd build a barn and buy some horses and sheep and go into animal husbandry. We Kyrgyz can't depend on the government or banks, we can only rely on friends and relatives."

Relaxed press

One area which has seen some improvement since Mr Bakiev came to power is the media, with moves towards greater press freedom.

Local radio broadcasts discussion programmes of topics which would be avoided in the state-controlled media of other Central Asian nations, and there are detailed reports of goings-on in parliament.

On a bus rattling over a snow covered mountain pass north of Naryn, two passengers sat discussing the parliamentary systems of various ex-Soviet republics - the sort of political discussion you rarely hear in public elsewhere in the region.

Further east again, in the picturesque town of Karakol near the shores of the vast blue inland sea of Issyk-Kul, there is a gloomy feeling about the past year.

This is partly because Karakol, once a town of prosperous Russian merchants, has fallen on hard times.

Most of the ethnic Russians who remain here in this far corner of what was once the Soviet Union see little good in the new political dispensation.

"People joke that the only solution would be to become a colony of the one of the great powers again," said one man, Valentin, who runs a tourism company in the town.

"Those idiots in Bishkek are just making a mess of everything."

That is a common enough view almost everywhere in Kyrgyzstan. It remains to be seen whether the new leaders in the capital will find their feet as they move into their second year in power.


SEE ALSO
One year on: Kyialbek Toksonbaev
17 Mar 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Ousted Kyrgyz leader speaks out
10 Mar 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Poll on Kyrgyz political system
21 Dec 05 |  Asia-Pacific
'Drug link' to Kyrgyz MP's death
29 Nov 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Bakiev sworn in as Kyrgyz leader
14 Aug 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Protesters oust Kyrgyz government
24 Mar 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: Kyrgyzstan
29 Jan 06 |  Country profiles

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